Class of 2009: Barrett, the Honors College

portrait of Laura Kennedy

Five years post-graduation, members of the Class of 2009 of Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University look back on the challenges they faced leaving the university during a recession and relish their successes.

“We graduated at a terrible time during the recession and hopes of finding employment were low,” said Laura Kennedy, who received a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, with honors from Barrett.

Kennedy watched many of her friends go back to school or move in with their parents while looking for work. She completed a study abroad program in Spain during the summer of 2009 and returned to the U.S. looking for a job. She landed a position as a reporter at KULR-TV in Billings, Mont.

“Despite the bad economy, I found a job in the field from which I graduated and have continued to succeed and grow in that career,” said Kennedy, who is currently a reporter and anchor for KOLR-TV in Springfield, Mo. She also is pursuing a master’s in business administration online through ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business.

“I know having a master’s degree and more than five years of work experience will make me a very marketable job candidate in the coming years,” she said.

Michael McDowell, who graduated with a degree in biochemistry from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with honors from Barrett, was on stage with President Obama as one of the Moeur Award winners that year and found inspiration in what the president had to say.

“I thought it was a very inspiring and personal speech,” McDowell said, adding that despite a difficult economy and other obstacles in 2009, the most significant challenges he has faced have been his own.

“In terms of challenges, I think my primary challenge has always been myself. I strive to prevent myself from putting things off, growing complacent and ignoring the needs of others due to a preoccupation with my own problems,” he said.

McDowell has chosen a profession in which he can put the needs of others first – being a physician.

He is currently in his final year of medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and will go to the University of Pittsburgh next year for a neurosurgical residency. McDowell has won nearly $600,000 in funding to support his research, including a Brain Aneurysm Foundation Grant and an anonymous grant from a person affected by brain aneurysms. In addition, he was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society and won the CosMO student Clinician of the Year Award. In his spare time he is an actor, and has participated in eight local plays.

Shay Graffius, who graduated with a marketing degree from W. P. Carey and honors from Barrett, was motivated by the president’s speech in a different way.

“I found his speech to be extremely motivating and honest. I liked that he tied the importance of personal happiness to what ones does for a living. Being passionate about the work you choose is the key to motivation,” she said.

Graffius has followed her passion on her career path.

After graduation, Graffius, a music enthusiast and guitar player, interned at Fender Musical Instruments Corp., and was later hired full-time as product manager of clothing and collectibles – an experience she described as a “dream come true.”

She recently began working for PetSmart, Inc. as an associate product manager of proprietary brands and international sourcing. “Participating in a work environment where moments between pets and pet parents are constantly created and celebrated is something very special,” she said.

Mark Appleton, who graduated with a degree in history from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with honors from Barrett, took the president’s words about public service to heart.

“President Obama’s message of service to others, continuing to challenge oneself and remembering that success or failure are not single events in time, but instead the sum of a life’s efforts, conjured powerful feelings of hope and excitement,” said Appleton, a summa cum laude graduate who sat on stage as the president spoke.

Appleton is making public service a part of his life’s work as an appointee in the Obama administration, serving as special adviser to Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz.

While Appleton has reached an enviable position early in his career, he said he looks forward to a long road ahead.

“I don’t feel that I can yet say whether I have been successful either personally or professionally. Instead, I will say that I believe I am on a solid path to being able to look back at the end of my life and feel that I have achieved incredible personal and professional success. I have a wonderful family and friends, a fantastic job and many years ahead of me to keep adding to my not-yet-complete body of work.”